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Gov. John Bel Edwards addresses the media concerning Louisiana's response to COVID-19.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday called special elections for two vacant U.S. House seats, setting the contests for March 20 with April runoffs if necessary.

Edwards received Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond’s resignation Tuesday, he said at a press conference. 

Qualifying for the election, during which candidates sign up and pay the fees, will take place Jan. 20th to 22nd.

The 2nd Congressional District covers parts of 10 parishes including most of New Orleans, a section of Jefferson Parish and extends up the Mississippi River to take in neighborhoods largely in north Baton Rouge. The district was drawn as the state's only one in which minorities are the majority. Of the 530,796 registered voters, 61% are Black and 63% are Democratic. Forty-five percent of the voters live in Orleans Parish and 12% live in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Richmond, a Democrat who lives in New Orleans East, announced on Nov. 17 that he would be leaving Congress to become director of the White House's Office of Public Engagement. He had served as an adviser to President-elect Joe Biden during Biden's successful run for president.

The other seat was left open by the death of Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, who died in late December from complications of COVID-19, weeks after being elected to the 5th Congressional District seat, which is being vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham. Letlow, also a Republican, served as chief of staff to Abraham and beat out state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, in a runoff earlier this month to replace Abraham on a 62% to 38% vote.

The 5th District is a mostly rural district that encompasses 24 parishes and extends from Bastrop in the far northeast Louisiana through Bunkie, south of Alexandria, to Opelousas, which is north of Lafayette, then east past St. Francisville over to Bogalusa in the Florida Parishes. Of the 491,128 registered voters, 64% are White and 35% are Republican. Twenty-two percent of the voters live in Ouachita Parish and 18% live in Rapides Parish.

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com.